Before jamón ibérico was worth its weight in gold, Spanish cuisine in the U.S. was identified by a single dish: paella. When Angel Miranda opened Lola’s on Esplanade in 1994, the restaurant’s calling card was paella. So first a word about paella: Like barbecue, boiled seafood, and red beans and rice, paella is always better when prepared in the home with a crowd of friends. In an ideal world, all paellas would be cooked over vine trimmings with brisk cold air biting the back of your neck and plenty of good, guzzable red wine at the ready. That said, the paella at Lola’s is a faithful rendition arriving the color of the Spanish plain and loaded with various and sundry items.
On crowded Friday and Saturday nights, patrons congregate on the sidewalks while sipping sangria and waiting for tables. Inside, the quaint dining room features petite tables lined up in tightly spaced rows between walls adorned with the work of New Orleans’ own Simon Hardeveld and Lola’s original art collection. The open kitchen gives diners a front row seat to the action, and the stacks of paella pans next to the stove are further reminders of the house specialty.
The liberal use of garlic across the entire menu would give horrible nightmares to True Blood and Twilight fans. It begins with the whipped butter enhanced with raw garlic and smeared across toasted miniature baguettes served as a prelude to the meal. Next comes the thin but flavorful, rust-colored garlic soup. The garlic chicken brings disappointingly tough breast tenders served in a cast iron pan nearly overflowing with garlic-infused olive oil dyed red with paprika. At some point along the way, the flavors from each dish run indistinctly together.
Those weary of halitosis — or on a first date — will appreciate the crabmeat tropical, a relatively garlic-free dish featuring a sizable ball of crabmeat tossed in basic aioli and stuffed inside an avocado — a cooling, refreshing, and (at $9) affordable contrast to the rest of the menu.
Desserts are all made in house, and while you may strive to stay authentic by ordering the eggy flan, whose texture is more quiche than custard, you’ll be better off with the chuflan — a dense, silky flourless chocolate torte, which pairs well with the final sips of your tempranillo. Gather some friends while the air is cool and create your own night in Spain. Just leave the vine cuttings at home.